If you want to be a DoD civilian, you have to have somewhat of a thick skin. While defense contractors tend to watch for overall budget priorities, federal employees need to watch if the civilian workforce is what is offered up in congressional budget negotiations. It’s no wonder that the federal talent gap seems like an impossible riddle. With a prohibitive hiring process, job security concerns from political pressures, and limited promotion opportunities, it’s not surprising that the DoD civilian workforce struggles to fill open billets and retain top talent.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA submitted the Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees Act, which is a fancy way of mandating a 15% reduction of the DoD civilian workforce by 2025, or a 100,000 personnel loss. The Secretary of Defense is allowed to use voluntary separation and early retirement incentives in order to spur on the reduction in the coming years. However, by October 2021, involuntary separations would be invoked. While normal departures for the civilian workforce happen each year, OPM reports that the yearly average is only 82,000 – less than the mandated amount, which means that if this bill passes, the Pentagon would need to get a little more aggressive in making cuts.

Lawmakers Scrambling for DoD Budget Battle

While leadership argues for an increase to carry out the 2018 NDAA, DoD civilian employees are offered up as a worthy sacrifice. The bill also caps the DoD Senior Executive Service (SES) employees at 1,000. The White House will release the federal budget plan in April, and lawmakers are already scrambling for better battle positioning.

“Like everything else in government, personnel is your biggest cost, and the civilian-to-uniform ratio … is at an all-time high,” Calvert, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel, said in an interview Wednesday. “Our inability to correct that trend is eating away at our military, our procurement, our readiness, all the above, and so we need to do this.”

Calvert continues with his winning approach to highlighting how respected the DoD civilian workforce should feel, “There would be discretion on the part of the people running the Pentagon; there are people you don’t want to lose, they’re in a special category, I get it. There are probably a lot of people you wouldn’t miss, people up for retirement.”

New Day, Same Approach to the DoD Budget

It’s not a new tactic. Billets have been left unfilled over the years. The leadership pool has dwindled to showcase either the faithful or the individuals strong enough to stick out the constant political changes. Pay compression or freezes are the norm. For many federal employees, it can seem like leaving civilian employment around the GS-13 or GS-14 mark can provide a better career trajectory than trying to pursue GS-15 levels. The higher the level in federal employment, the higher the chance that political power struggles will impact personal compensation.

Not Everyone Supports Civilian Cuts

While some are aiming for the civilian workforce, other lawmakers disagree.

“His proposal could lead to some of the most talented and committed DOD public servants losing their jobs,” Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN said in a statement. “While we agree there is excess defense spending, my focus is on making smart investments that yield demonstrable outcomes by cutting waste and ending subsidies for outdated and unnecessary programs and facilities. In my view, the existing Department of Defense civilian workforce is mission critical to ensuring our national security.”


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.